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    May 26, 2023
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    Andrew Linden

The Hague Convention: Its Role in Washington State Family Law

What happens if an opposing party lives overseas and needs to personally receive court paperwork? Today, we learn more about the international Hauge Service Convention.

As a professional team who frequently handles international family law cases in Washington State, we want to help you understand an important piece of international legislation: The Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters. This is also known as the Hague Service Convention, and it plays a significant role in how family law cases with international aspects are handled. But what does it entail and how can it affect your family law case? Let’s dive in.

First, let’s understand the basics. The Hague Service Convention is an international treaty formulated in 1965 by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. This treaty aims to simplify the process for serving documents from one country to another. The Convention is essentially a formal agreement between countries to respect and enforce each other’s legal systems and processes, creating a standardized method for document exchange.

Why does this matter in family law? Let’s take a hypothetical situation: imagine you reside in Washington State and are going through a divorce process. Your spouse, however, has moved overseas. Now, a divorce, custody, or child support case involves multiple crucial documents that need to be officially ‘served’ (delivered) to all parties involved, including your spouse. Here’s where the Hague Service Convention comes into play, ensuring that your spouse receives these necessary documents, in accordance with the laws of their current residence country.

In the context of Washington State family law, here is how the Convention might impact your case:

Jurisdiction and Recognition: For a Washington State court to exercise jurisdiction over a non-resident, the individual must be properly served with notice of the proceedings. Through the Hague Service Convention, foreign countries agree to accept service of U.S. legal documents within their borders. Therefore, you can move forward with your case, knowing that international boundaries don’t mean insurmountable barriers.

Establishing Proper Service: Under the Convention, there are specific protocols to follow when serving documents abroad. The process typically involves sending the documents to the Central Authority of the receiving country, who then serves the documents. This structured procedure ensures that your spouse can’t contest the divorce on the grounds of improper service.

Certification of Service: After serving the documents, the Central Authority provides a certificate of service, confirming that all necessary papers have been properly delivered. This certificate can be critical evidence in your case, solidifying the validity of the service.

Time Considerations: However, it’s important to note that the process of serving documents through the Hague Service Convention can be slow, often taking several months. Therefore, it’s essential to account for this time frame when planning your case.

Exceptions: Finally, not all countries are signatories to the Hague Service Convention. If your spouse resides in a non-member country, different rules may apply.

While the Hague Service Convention can make international service of process simpler, there are still nuances and complexities. Each member country can make specific reservations or declarations about how they will handle the Convention’s procedures. Some countries may still object to service by mail or require translation of documents into their official language.

In the end, if your family law case has an international component, it’s crucial to understand the implications of the Hague Service Convention. It’s not only about knowing the steps but also understanding the timelines, the potential obstacles, and the need to comply with both Washington State law and international law. As always, working with a knowledgeable attorney can help navigate these complexities, ensuring your case is handled effectively and efficiently.

The Hague Service Convention is an essential tool that upholds the integrity of international legal processes. Understanding its role in your family law case in Washington State can make a significant difference in your case’s outcome.

While the legal journey can often seem daunting, knowing and understanding the law can empower you every step of the way. Stay informed, stay prepared!

If you are looking for legal guidance in the Seattle area, contact the Hemmat Law Group today at (206) 682-5200 to speak with a dedicated family law attorney. We have extensive experience dealing with international matters and child abductions.


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Article by Andrew Linden
Associate Attorney